1985. Directed by Howard Storm.
Howard Storm’s only feature film, and Jim Carrey’s first leading role, Once Bitten is a libidinous romp through 1985 Los Angeles. Featuring riotous levels of sexual camp supplemented by a surprisingly fresh take on the male coming of age convention; this is ’80s cult trash of the highest order.
Carrey plays a good natured teen desperate to consummate his relationship with his longtime girlfriend. Relationship frustrations send him and his friends on a nightclub crawl in which he encounters a ravishing 400 year old seductress with designs on his virgin blood. The script bounces between the comedic irreverence of the decade, the inevitable sexual changes of puberty, and the ramifications losing one’s virginity. Carrey’s odyssey, punctuated with subtle makeup effects by Richard Arrington, uses Vampirism as a simulated STD while commentating on how the loss of innocence serves as a transition. Once Carrey’s Mark is in the Vampire’s grasp, everything, from his wardrobe to his relationships changes, and Carrey does a remarkable job at harnessing the subtleties of the plot and the slapstick antics of the action.
Adam Greenberg’s fluid camera work captures the gothic interior of the vampire’s lair with sweeping shots of whitewashed rooms that are offset by the vibrant colors of the city. Lauren Hutton’s turn as the sultry Countess boasts some memorable lines; however she is eclipsed by Cleavon Little’s turn as her dapper Renfield, Sebastian, bringing a genuine laugh every time he’s on screen. Jill Ohannsen’s costume design is the highlight, showcasing the vampires in gaudy black ensembles and the humans in abysmal conglomerations of the MTV era.
There are cringe-worthy moments of pure machismo that may offend sensitivities, but these are sprinkled throughout a film that generally wants to have fun with its material. The film was critically maligned by most upon its release. Thankfully, the years have been kind, with Shout Factory doing a stellar blu ray release in 2015. Once Bitten is a unique film because it hovers just beneath the excess of other sex comedies and never slips into the violence of other ’80s vampire films that would become icons of the genre.
Available now on STARZ streaming or on blu ray from Shout Factory, Once Bitten takes a simple premise and revels in its absurdity, exploring serious themes of casual sex, disease, and social expectations and twisting them into the realm of melodramatic satire. If you’re looking for a fun trip down memory lane or merely looking to waste some time with a low commitment comedy that boasts a handful of hilarious sequences and a scene stealing performance by Little, Once Bitten won’t disappoint.